The recently released Food Traceability final rule issued under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is designed to facilitate faster identification and rapid removal of potentially contaminated food from the market. The organization believes this rule will result in fewer foodborne illnesses and/or deaths due to issues like ecoli or salmonella.
According to an FDA notice:
Foods subject to the final rule requirements appear on the Food Traceability List (FTL), and include fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, shell eggs, nut butters, as well as certain fresh fruits, certain fresh vegetables, ready-to-eat deli salads, soft cheeses, and certain seafood products.
Persons who manufacture, process, pack, or hold foods on the FTL must maintain records including Key Data Elements (KDEs) related to Critical Tracking Events (CTEs) in the supply chain for the food (link). Covered entities – including farms, manufacturers, distributors, retail food establishments, and restaurants – will be required to provide this traceability information to the FDA within 24 hours of an official request, or within some reasonable time to which the FDA agrees.
The Food Traceability final rule is a key component of the FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint and implements Section 204(d) of FSMA.
The preventive controls final rules require that a facility verify that hazards are being controlled and take corrective action to prevent contamination. Although this rule pertains to foodborne illness or pathogen contamination, it doesn’t mean that other types of contamination should be ignored.
The preventive controls for human food rule establishes a requirement for facilities to have their own written food safety plan. And part of that safety plan should be to keep products free of physical contaminants as well.
Physical contaminants – like metal, plastics, stones, glass, and bones – can originate at the farm. As the food is harvested, foreign objects such as stones or glass can end up commingled and transported into the processing plant. Then as the food moves into the processing and packaging facility, there is potential for more foreign physical contaminants – like broken machinery pieces, loose screws and bolts. As a result, sometimes small pieces of that machinery can end up in a product or package. Even glass shards resulting from broken or damaged jars or wood from the pallets used to move goods around the factory can contaminate a packaged product.
Manufacturers can protect against such risk by inspecting incoming materials and auditing suppliers to ensure quality at the beginning of the process, and then inspecting products after each major processing step as well as at the end of production before products are shipped.
There are food X-ray detection and inspection systems that are utilized to help find glass, rocks, bones or plastic pieces. X-ray inspection systems are based on the density of the product and the contaminant. As an X-ray penetrates a food product, it loses some of its energy. A dense area, such as a contaminant, will reduce the energy even further. As the X-ray exits the product, it reaches a sensor. The sensor then converts the energy signal into an image of the interior of the food product. Foreign matter appears as a darker shade of grey and helps identify foreign contaminants. The package in question can be removed from the line before it gets to the consumer’s hands.
Metal, including pieces of wires or mesh screens – are especially problematic if they get mixed into dry products or embedded in the fruits, vegetables, proteins and dairy products; that’s when an industrial metal detector would be appropriate. Metal detectors use high frequency radio signals to detect the presence of ferrous, non-ferrous, and stainless steel contaminants. metal in food or other products. The newest multiscan metal detectors are capable of scanning up to five user-selectable frequencies running at a time, which increases the probability of finding the contaminant before it goes out the door.
We recently wrote about the challenges faced with some of the foods mentioned, like cheese and prepared meats and vegetables. Dairy products (such as cheese and butter), marinated meat and seafood, and pickled vegetables and fruits contain high salt and moisture content — which presents another challenge (referred to as product effect) to food processors. There are technologies that can minimize the issue. (Read the application note: Thermo Scientific Intellitrack XR (IXR) Signal Processing Software – Enhanced metal detector performance for conductive products.)
If a consumer is harmed by any contaminant, be it a pathogen or a physical contaminant, it not only hurts the customer, but it is detrimental to the company brand and the bottom line. The Food Traceability Final Rule compliance date for all persons subject to the recordkeeping requirements is Tuesday, January 20, 2026. But keeping consumers safe from any contaminant is a daily necessity.
- The FDA held a webinar on the rule and posted the recording to the meeting page
- Visit Frequently Asked Questions on FSMA to learn more about the Food Traceability Final Rule
- Webinar: Reducing vulnerability to foreign object contamination in the food processing industry